IN: Reviews

Molding Mahler’s Elemental Clay


BMInt staff montage

Asked after the Boston Philharmonic Youth Symphony Orchestra’s dress rehearsal of the Mahler Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection) whether it was going to be any good and whether I should come, Benjamin Zander replied to my ironical question.

Its almost certainly my last Mahler 2nd in Boston. It’s too much physical effort to get that number of ducks in a row (230 people?). I’m 84! The orchestra is in top form. We will be touring in South Africa in June . . . Mahler 2nd hasn’t been done in Johannesburg for over 40 years!  We will perform it in Soweto to an all-black audience with a black choir and soloists.

The mezzo soprano is splendiferous — a major talent on the way to stardom. The chorus is on top of its game. Could you take in one more Mahler 2nd before you die, or at least before I die……..maybe? There is a party afterwards. Isn’t that incentive enough?

Of course I really didn’t need to ask, since Zander has accomplished the once seemingly miraculous feat of elevating the eleven-year-old BPYO’s performances to such consistent heights, that we expect miracles of engagement and execution every time they play.

Like a master potter, Zander has raised the elemental clay of his young charges into a vessel that overflows with their intentions to show the best of what enlightened Americans have to offer. This cornucopia of joy, hope, and excellence spills out immeasurable gifts season after season.

 Zander had been coy when wondering about his stamina. At the concert, his energetic, off-the-cuff opening remarks, which opened the ears of the full house to Mahler’s worlds of nature, life, love, joy, fear, the wrath of God, and wonder about the hereafter, induced an electric charge before a note sounded. Then he practically leapt onto the podium and raised his arms to embark on his 12th world-wide “Resurrection.” 

Forty sumptuously stroked violins responded with anticipatory tremolos before the vocal cello section articulated its first noble statement. Energy crackled. A death march of souls proceeded upwards, confident that the dies irae would Passover. Was anything more important happening in the universe? Those at Symphony Hall on Wednesday night would say no!

The Andante Moderato lilted with Viennese Gemütlichkeit, the crinolines rustling and shimmering, and evanescing into mystical realms… moments evoke Beethoven’s 9th’s  anticipations of the choral entrance. Juicy string portamenti and canny rubati signaled immersion in Mahler’s style. Jack-in-the box pizzicatos lined up perfectly and led to rippling akin to Bach’s first prelude.

In the third movement, In ruhig fliesenden Bewegung (With a gently flowing movement) two strokes from the timpani lead to a turmoil in which Tristen Broadfoot’s klezmer sound emerged as a human highlight. “Captivating orchestral solos, doublings—and even triplings—so challenging when that many different instruments must play in unison—families, and tuttis would run the whole nightlong. (David Patterson).” The movement built to the cry-of-despair chord, pinning my decibel meter at 97, and setting up the Urlicht, (Primal Light) in which mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano consoled us with the most beautifully produced angelic tones since Jesse Norman floated out this ode to bliss and heavenly repose.

The sprawling Finale, Mahler’s longest movement save for the Eighth Symphony’s Part 2 (which is really much more than a movement) leading us from neutral passagework to ecstasy is hard to hold together, but Zander certainly marshaled it with the authority of experience and inspiration. It began in chaos before we heard the “Resurrection” theme. More angelic singing from Cano as well as moving strains from soprano Maria Brea teased the gigantic choral conclusion, which began in such a remarkable hush. The Chorus pro Musica, having sat on stage for so long, supported these tones with an astonishing ability to put across words and meanings at the threshold of inaudibility, thanks to the abilities of the 100-plus singers and Jamie Kirsch’s preparation.

And we adapt a pair of earlier reviews for the peroration.

E-flat major has never sounded so eloquent and moving as in the final section of this symphony, with the chorus, soloists and orchestra, so deeply under-girded with strong foundations of the organ, when the eternal call to us mortals is proclaimed: “Rise again, yes, you will rise again my heart, in the twinkling of an eye!” Who could fail to be moved by this music and this performance, in this place on such an evening? (Brian Jones)”

With such a sea of instruments and voices before him, [Zander] masterminded a performance reaching heights rarely experienced at Boston’s symphonic shrine. Without a single show of flashiness, the seasoned conductor led the teeming myriads of notes of Mahler’s perhaps most popular symphony to inevitable yet fresh destinations. Mahler was never so elegant, so wrought with musical design, and so deeply moving. (John Ehrlich)

Zander and his players said goodbye to those departing from their ranks with a cry of the heart, Elgar’s Nimrod. Rosamund Zander, Ben’s former wife and permanent Partner in Possibility, could be seen to wipe away a tear. She also privately co-conducted some of Jennifer Johnson Cano’s beautifully arched phrases. We responded in the same manner, though without actually shaping time.

Lee Eiseman is the Publisher of the Intelligencer

A photo-montage of Hilary Scott photos follows:
Zander leads concertmaster Nikki Naghavi and violinist Michael Fischer, left;  percussionist Tristyn Liu, right
Jennifer Johnson Cano and Maria Brea left; Harold Rivas right
Assistant conductor Alfonso Piacentini leads offstage band
Violinist Isabelle Fan;  Isabel Evernham and Joanna Lau piccolos, left; clarinetists Maxwell Reed and Cole Turkel, right
Maria Brea fronts a contingent from Venezuelan Association of Massachusetts left; brass section, right
Some 230 persons on the Symphony Hall Stage


2 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Is this a review, or a puff piece from the PR department of Zander-Enterprises, LLC? Goodness, mentioning the former Mrs. Z’s air-conducting of the soloist while in the audience? Come on, be professional, BMint.

    Comment by Hans Lick — May 5, 2023 at 3:16 pm

  2. Seems to this attendee that Mr. Eiseman caught the Geist just perfectly.

    Comment by denovo2 — May 5, 2023 at 4:55 pm

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